SEP 28, 2021 1:09 PM PDT

Revealing the Age of Lobsters with DNA

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

It's tough to tell how old lobsters are. Even lobster researchers aren't sure exactly how old they can get. Generally, their size can be used to estimate their age, but different lobsters have different rates of growth, according to Dr. Martin Taylor of the University of East Anglia (UEA), which can make estimate unreliable. Now, work by Taylor and others has led to a method for calculating a lobster's age from their DNA. This study may help lobster fisheries to operate in a more sustainable way.

Image credit: Pxhere

“For a long time, it appeared that there was no accurate way to quantify a lobster’s age. Some research suggested that you could tell a lobsters age by counting the rings in parts of their eyestalks and stomach, a little like counting tree rings. But you can’t do that for a living lobster,” said Taylor.

The shell of a lobster is tough and inelastic, and as they grow, they have to shed those shells and replace them. But "lobsters of the same age don’t always grow and moult at the same time. For example, lobsters with more food or in warmer waters can grow more quickly, which makes it really hard to know how old lobsters actually are," said study co-author Dr. Eleanor Fairfield.

In this study, the researchers decided to focus on the European lobster because it has ecological and economic significance, noted Fairfield. Part of her graduate studies involved developing this non-lethal, new method for deciphering European lobster age.

The technique involves quantifying the genetic changes that accumulate in the genome of a lobster as it has aged. The method was calibrated by studying the genetics of lobsters that had been raised from birth at the National Lobster Hatchery.

“We identified a very strong relationship between age and DNA modifications, which allowed us to accurately estimate the ages of individual lobsters," said Taylor. Their predictions about lobster age were compared to traditional methods, and the data from the quantification tool "generally aligned with minimum estimates of age based on size."

“It is crucial to be able to estimate how many lobsters of particular ages are present in a given area so that they can be sustainably harvested," said Fairfield.

“Having an accurate indication of lobster age will help fisheries, scientists and conservationists alike to understand, manage and conserve our vulnerable lobster stocks, working hand-in-hand with proactive fisheries management strategies, such as stock enhancement," added Dr. Carly Daniels, head of production science and development at the National Lobster Hatchery.

Sources: University of East Anglia, Evolutionary Applications

About the Author
BS
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JAN 28, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
Many Pathogenic Genetic Variants Don't Seem to Carry A Big Risk of Disease
JAN 28, 2022
Many Pathogenic Genetic Variants Don't Seem to Carry A Big Risk of Disease
For many years, a genetic mutation was usually linked to a serious disease. Researchers were able to connect errors in s ...
FEB 01, 2022
Coronavirus
A Genetic Variant Can Protect Against Severe COVID-19
FEB 01, 2022
A Genetic Variant Can Protect Against Severe COVID-19
The wide variation in the severity of COVID cases is probably due to a wide range of factors, including how much virus a ...
FEB 02, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
CRISPR Causes Mutations That Are Passed on to Offspring
FEB 02, 2022
CRISPR Causes Mutations That Are Passed on to Offspring
There is little doubt that since it was created, the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system has been revolutionary in the resea ...
FEB 17, 2022
Plants & Animals
Fighting Illegal Elephant Ivory Trafficking With DNA Testing
FEB 17, 2022
Fighting Illegal Elephant Ivory Trafficking With DNA Testing
Ivory poaching and trading has a long and tragic history. Humans have coveted ivory for use in a range of products&mdash ...
FEB 24, 2022
Immunology
Identical Twins Help Solve MS Mystery
FEB 24, 2022
Identical Twins Help Solve MS Mystery
  In multiple sclerosis, the immune system goes rogue, mistakenly attacking the brain and spinal cord tissues. The ...
FEB 28, 2022
Clinical & Molecular DX
Information from the Placenta Could Speed Up Autism Diagnoses
FEB 28, 2022
Information from the Placenta Could Speed Up Autism Diagnoses
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability estimated to affect one in 44 children in the Uni ...
Loading Comments...